NEW DELHI: The “discovery” of a drug, dexamethasone, that has shown promise in reducing mortalities in severely sick COVID-19 patients is especially good news for developing countries like India as the steroid is not only a commonly used generic medicine but also inexpensive.
Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid that is an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant and was found to help COVID-19 patients experiencing acute inflammatory response called cytokine storm, which is a major cause of death in very sick patients.
Researchers from the Oxford University had, on Tuesday, announced that as part of the Recovery Trials in the UK, the largest randomised clinical trial in the world to test several repurposed therapies for COVID-19, low-dose dexamethasone showed benefits.
As part of the trial, a total of 2,104 patients were randomised to receive dexamethasone 6 mg once per day for ten days and were compared with 4,321 patients randomised to usual care alone.
The results showed that mortality rate in patients who required ventilation and were given dexamethasone fell from 41 percent to 28 percent.
In moderately sick patients who required oxygen support only, the deaths were reduced by a fifth and while 25 percent oxygen support patients died on standard care, 20 percent died when on dexamethasone. There was, however, no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support.
According to clinicians, the drug which is given orally, as intra-muscle injections and also intravenously is commonly used for conditions such as rheumatic issues, skin diseases, extreme allergies, respiratory diseases, swelling in the brain and eye pain following eye surgeries apart from cancer. The medicine has been in use for nearly four decades.
India’s domestic market of the drug is estimated to be Rs 104 crore, led mainly by the brand Dexona manufactured and marketed by Gujarat based Zydus Cadila, while Cadila Healthcare and Wockhardt also manufacture the medicine among several other drugmakers.
In the country, the drug’s price is regulated under the Drug (Prices Control) Order 2013, and costs around Rs 5-6 per injection. The medicine is even less costlier in tablet form whose cost is Rs 10-28 for a strip of 20 tablets.
Experts however caution against indiscriminate use of the medicine as the long-term use of dexamethasone may result in thrush, bone loss, cataract, easy bruising or muscle weakness and advise that only serious patients needing the medicine should be given the drug under medical supervision.